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JUNE 2019 | ISSUE 1

Current affairs
commentary
World University Service HKUSU

Written and edited by Andrea But (Current Affairs Secretary)


and Chloe Ching (Publication Secretary, Acting Current
Affairs Secretary)

IN THIS ISSUE
Educational Crisis in Pakistan
By Andrea But p. 2-5

Boycott Zara: Salvation of the


Exploited?
By Chloe Ching p. 6-12

Does immigration strengthen or


undermine tolerance?
By Dilys Tam p. 13-19
educational crisis in
pakistan
By Andrea But - Current
Affairs Secretary

As young people studying and living in Hong Kong, we take


education for granted while we complain about work and find
ways to work the least but earn the necessary credits. But further
west in Pakistan, this is not the case for girls as they have to
make the choice between eating and learning.

Education is a fundamental right that lies at the heart of the


United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO). It is also a right enshrined in Article 26 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Everyone has the right
to education and education shall be directed to the full
development of the human personality and to the strengthening
of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Pakistan
fails to ensure this fundamental right – it is described as “among
the world’s worst performing countries in education” at the 2015
Oslo Summit on Education and Development and there are 22.5
million children out of school in July 2018. This is so because
Pakistan spends far less on education than is recommended by
UNESCO on its guidance on education. Under this number, there
is significantly more girls than boys out of school. This is
especially so when children get older – as there are fewer schools
for girls, many girls are pushed out of continuing studies and an
‘upward bottleneck’ situation forms. While girls are denied
access to education, it reflects a broader social picture of gender
inequality.
2
A study by Gallup Pakistan showed that 63% of respondants
agreed that boys education are more important than girls. The
mindset that boys are inherently better than girls is still ingrained
in the mindset of Pakistanis.

Pakistan is among the world's worst performing countries


in education. (Source: Al Arabiya)

Even though 37% of respondants think that boys and girls should
receive education equally, such a change cannot be seen – at the
core of the problem, the government is disinterested in investing
in education and fails to establish an education system that
adequately meets all the children’s needs. The lack of compulsory
education drives up education costs – private schools can be
ridiculously expensive for normal families to afford, and the
additional costs in public costs can be too much of a burden for
poor families as well. As there is no compulsory education, girls
can easily drop out when they lose interest or it becomes too
expensive for their families to afford, leading to a high population
of children who are out-of-school. The government’s disinterest in
investing in education lead to a low quality of education as they
do not bother to perform strict checks on educational quality.
3
The prevalence of corruption also contributes to low quality of
education. Some people buy teaching jobs from officials, so they
have no ability to teach at all, hence the teachers have varying
qualities and the students receive varying qualities of education.
Although gender inequality had always been a long term social
problem, the government’s failure to emphasize compulsory
education for boys and girls allows this social problem to persist
and even intensifies gender inequality when there is limited
resources on education. In short, the government has deprived
the right to education for children and especially girls.

At the core of the problem, the government is disinterested


in investing in education. (Source: anssersss.wordpress.com)

Denied access to education for girls is not just any social


problem – it is a manifestation of Pakistani mentality.
Traditionally, women play a reproductive role and girls learn to
be good mothers and housewives. Men are the breadwinners
and gender roles are segregated. By staying in the domestic
realm, women maintain their modesty and keep the family
honour. To work and earn money strips away their modesty. 

4
This mentality is reflected in the study by Gallup Pakistan, where
45% of respondents think that it is wrong for men and women
to work at the same time. Sending girls to school paves the way
for them to find a job which means they cannot be modest, and
it destroys the family honour. Additionally, child marriage cuts
girls’ education short. Marriage for girls is to eventually move to
her husband’s home and become his property. For parents,
focusing on their daughter’s marriage, and to marry her off early,
is much more important because her modesty and chastity
maintains the family honour. In other words, striving to keep the
family honour keeps the girls out of school. Even when it is done
at the expense of being more vulnerable to violence after
marriage, denying access education to girls is to prevent from
her from standing up for herself in an abusive relationship.

The road to changing this social issue faces a lot of challenges.


Poverty is an important factor that drives girls out of school as
families face the dilemma between sending their daughters to
school and feeding them. The government’s incapability to
solve this deep-rooted problem, or at least provide compulsory
education for girls, enhances gender inequality. But what needs
to change fundamentally is Pakistani’s perception of a modest
woman to uphold family honour. When this perception is
broken down, then there is no reason to say that boys are
inherently more capable than girls, and there is no reason to
deny girls of education.

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boycott zara:
salvation of the
exploited?
By Chloe Ching - Publication
Secretary, Acting Current
Affairs Secretary

Sweatshop in third-world countries like Bangladesh is not


news to anyone. And lately, the narrative has been reiterated -
this time by advocates of the “Boycott [insert any fast fashion
brand]” movement, whose emergence has garnered much
support. It is a rebellion, intended to resist poor treatment of
garment factory workers. The aspirations are admirable, but
does it actually aid the workers they seek to save?
 
The collapse of Rana Plaza, a garment factory complex, has first
brought to light the problems of Bangladeshi garment
industry, which is the second largest in the world. The incident
was catastrophic: more than 1100 died, and thousands more
were injured. What is more tragic is that the innocent victims
have been sacrificed to feed human greed - a graceless
massacre. Casualties would have been avoided, had the factory
owners told workers to leave work early after noticing cracks on
the walls. Since then, factory owners’ blatant disregard of
workers’ safety and the lack of governmental regulation have
been a focal point of criticism from the international
community.

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Resentment towards garment factory owners culminated in late
2018, when the local government proposed to raise garment
workers’ minimum wage from 5300 taka (US$62.9) to 8000 taka 
(US$95). Tens of thousands of workers, dissatisfied about the
meagreness of the increment, had since made headlines for
demonstrating for a higher pay, and a more friendly working
environment. It had lasted for more than a month, and had
caused injuries as the police fired tear gas in response to the
growing crowds. As a result, more than 50 garment factories had
ceased operation.
 
What followed is that more than 5000 garments workers have
lost their jobs for participating in the protests. To make matters
worse, union representatives have been arrested on trumped-up
charges that may lead to life imprisonment.

The aspirations to resist poor treatment of garment factory


workers are admirable, but does it actually aid the workers
they seek to save? (Source: Nikkei Asian Review)

The suffocation of workers’ rights is apparent. “Workers have the


fundamental right to [demand for] decent wages and should
be able to do so, free from repression,”
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Ben Vanpeperstraete of Clean Clothes Campaign, which is
committed to improving working conditions in the garment
industry across the world, remarks.

It is tempting to conclude that labour exploitation in the


garment industry has reached an unbearable degree, which
justifies the moral crusade against fast fashion. The strategy is
simple: boycott any fast fashion brand, make them shut down,
and the issue can be solved. Yet, a closer look at the working
conditions in Bangladesh reveals such rationale may as well be
an illusion of righteousness.

To say that the garment factory workers hate their jobs, as


derived from recent strikes, is a simplistic statement. Indeed,
they are better off than those who take up other occupations,
especially for women, whose career choices are limited. A
majority of them are compelled to either work for a garment
factory, or to serve for an affluent family.

A majority of them are compelled to either work for a


garment factory, or to serve for an affluent family. (Source:
blog.brac.net)
8
The phenomenon is caused by an interplay between economic
and cultural factors. In addition to the dependence of the local
economy on manufacturing, the social stigma that women are
to remain in the domestic sphere prevails; working as a woman
in Bangladesh is seen as a desperate measure to make ends
meet.
 
And being an employee in the garment factory is more
effective in fulfilling that need. Comparing the main options
available for women, while servants work 22 hours more per
week than garment workers, their average income is much
lower: as of 2018, a servant earns a paltry 4000 taka (US$47.5)
monthly, a half of what garment workers are gaining.
 
Despite a huge difference in wages, they similarly come with a
heavy cost: the possibility of abuse. In 2015, Khadija, a girl who
served as a domestic worker, reported to the authorities that
“she was scorched by hot cooking spud and boiled water, and
scratched by sharp metal all over her body”. Her story is not
uncommon in Bangladesh. In fact, servants are prone to be
taken advantage of: of all servants, 17% claim to be sexually
harassed, 47% are said to be physically tortured, and a
whopping 83% allege being mentally tormented.

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Despite a huge difference in wages, they similarly come
with a heavy cost: the possibility of abuse. (Source: Al
Jazeera)

The problem is particularly prominent for them, for what


happens in houses behind closed doors will always be a
mystery to outsiders; thus, monitoring the conduct of
employers is nearly impossible.
 
The inadequacy of legal protection is only part of the grave
realities encountered by domestic workers. It seems the
abuse has become more rampant. The Bangladesh Shishu
Adhikar Forum (BSAF) notes that in the recent years, there
have been more cases of murders of domestic workers,
caused by injuries at work, being disguised as suicide.
 
For women, deciding who to work for is like opting for the
lesser of two evils. Likewise, poor men, who usually lack proper
education, struggle with the choice of occupation. Their
encounters are much less serious, though. Given such
circumstances, it is not without reason that the impoverished
in Bangladesh tend to think of employment in a garment
factory as a (relatively) preferable way to free themselves from
poverty.

10
The impoverished in Bangladesh tend to think of
employment in a garment factory as a (relatively)
preferable way to free themselves from poverty. (Source:
Daily Sun)

By refusing to consume fast fashion, the “victims” meant to be


saved will have landed on worse jobs. Inaction may have been
unethical as it normalises the misbehaviour of employers, but
boycotting fast fashion brands is equally inappropriate - a
good-natured, yet misinformed act. To know where the
misconceptions stem from, it is crucial to understand the
misrepresentations of poverty in Bangladesh.
 
The country has always been portrayed as the rising star.
According to the World Bank, “Bangladesh is continuing to
make impressive progress in poverty reduction”, which is
evident in the fact that extreme poverty rate had decreased
from 34.3% in 2000 to 12.9% in 2016.

Most people purchase water from illegal well


owners, whose rates can be 15 times the official
unit rate. (Source: The Upstream Journal)
11
Interestingly, publications as such often dismiss the context of
income insufficiency. For instance, most people purchase
water from illegal well owners, whose rates can be 15 times the
official unit rate. Such expense is one of the many illegitimate
fees, which are not taken into account, but may adversely
affect the livelihood of the least privileged.
 
“Boycott Zara” comes across as a manifestation of ignorance of
most people towards the country: advocators “fantasise” that
garment workers belong to the lowest strata in the country
when they are not, hence why their sympathetic situations are
ubiquitous in the media.

The important lesson to take away from the


misrepresentations is: do not take any human rights issue out
of context. Eradicating labour exploitation is not just about
boycotting fast fashion brands altogether. What we can do to
improve the status quo, instead, is to look at the bigger picture
and to advocate for workers’ rights in Bangladesh in general.

12
does immigration
strengthen or
undermine
tolerance?
By Dilys Tam

Broadly speaking, immigration refers to the movement of


population from one place to another. While some consider open
borders a celebration of liberal ideals, others fear the influx may
strain welfare states and threaten solidarity. Concerns regarding
the ideological clash between liberalism and foreign values have
also been raised. As a neutral notion, the effects of immigration
can vary vastly with circumstances - if coupled with appropriate
measures, it diversifies society and strengthens tolerance; if not, it
may exacerbate age-old contentions, undermining tolerance. The
effects on tolerance in society depend on the context of
immigration, government attitudes, as well as the individual
characteristics of the immigrants.

Theoretically, immigration enhances tolerance as the possible


economic benefits contribute towards the establishment of a
supranational identity that transcends cultural affiliations. If
properly regulated, immigrants are precious foreign-introduced
assets that complement the economic inadequacies of a nation.
For countries with low birth rate, immigration provides them with
labour needed to sustain its economic structure. Some legal
immigrants bring valuable knowledge, while others lacking in
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skill are often willing to take up jobs that locals do not desire,
allowing the mobilisation of local labour for the further economic
development of the region. Hypothetically, common economic
benefits as stemmed from globalisation cultivate a
rapprochement that transcends differences of ethnicity, race and
culture that have circumscribed populations for centuries,
achieving greater market diversification. In progressive capitalist
societies, the boundaries of race and ethnicity are of less
consequence than that of socio-economic distinction. Tangible
national economic benefits, yielded by immigrants or locals alike,
are a celebration of such liberal ideals, thus fostering greater
social cohesion and tolerance.

On the contrary, in circumstances of competition, immigration


often undermines tolerance. During economic depressions when
competition for jobs are keen, local citizens are more likely to
regard economic immigrants, who are often more willing to take
up the same jobs for lower wages, as threats towards their
economic security, manifesting in an ‘Us versus Them’ attitude.
Moreover, the poorly educated children of immigrants have a low
competitiveness in the job market, resulting in a reliance on
government welfare, perpetuating the misconception that
immigrants are economic burdens. For example, during the Great
Depression, Mexican immigrants who were seen as competitors
of American jobs faced repatriation in the wake of widespread
unemployment and increasingly hostility.
Henceforth, one can infer that in contexts of keen competition,
immigration undermines tolerance in society as it creates more
conflicts of interest. Furthermore, the effects of immigration
towards tolerance are highly susceptible to the volatile changes
of socio-economic conditions.

More evidently, crime committed by immigrants acts as a catalyst


that undermines tolerance in society for particular groups. For 
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example, the arrival of Syrian asylum seekers in Europe indirectly
brought about the individual cases of crime committed by
immigrants, such as the 2015/2016 New Year’s Eve sexual
assaults in Cologne, Germany. While these cases are by no
means representative of Syrian asylum seekers, they have
elicited a public backlash targeted at Muslim immigrants of
Middle Eastern origin. Coupled with the effects of right-wing
populism, the gross exaggeration of individual cases into a
seemingly widespread phenomenon instills xenophobia into
society. In such contexts, movements such as 120 dB exploit
legitimate campaigns against gender-based violence to
normalize hatred against immigrants. This exacerbates existing
contentions between locals and communities of specific
ethnicity, race and religion. Consequently, immigration
threatens tolerance as it engenders the possibility of forming
unfair generalisations concerning certain groups in the event of
crime.

Syrian asylum seekers in Germany (Source: Arab News)

While the notion of open borders stands as a beacon of liberal


ideals, the pressure of immigration brings a practical need for
nations to cater to their national interests. Socio-economic
concerns divide European societies, fraying coalition
governments that have previously strived for national benefit.
15
As a case in point, Angela Merkel’s and Horst Seehofer’s
contention concerning Germany’s open door policy have
elicited a wave of right-wing sentiment. With Germans
increasingly divided over the issue, tolerance in society is
undermined under pressure. Threats towards tolerance have
also emerged in other central European states like Austria.
Externally, conflicts may also arise between states that profess a
moralistic highground, likely stemmed from a postwar desire to
establish itself as a responsible nation, such as Germany, and
those with a history entailed with cultural amiosity, such as
Hungary. Under keen competition for resources, existing
contentions regarding privileges and responsibilities manifest as
an intolerance between EU states on the grounds of socio-
economic or ideological differences. Instead of complementing
each other’s differences and embracing diversity, these
distinctions divide the Schengen Area, showing that
immigration generates a pressure that undermines tolerance.

Nonetheless, although domestic concerns inevitably divide


member states over the rights and responsibilities of the EU,
immigration can also stand as an invaluable opportunity to
strengthen tolerance. As the EU is established on the basis of
solidarity and common benefit, immigration has rendered the
acceptance of socio-economic differences within the union as
the prerequisite of European cooperation. The influx of
immigrants poses a necessity to implement contingency
measures, such as the European Agenda on Migration proposed
by the European Commission in 2015. The strengths and
weaknesses of member states would be taken into account,
effectively optimizing the similarities and differences for
common benefit. By imposing a need for the EU to enact a
shared response to a common challenge, the necessity of

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communal effort of every member state is acknowledged.
Differences are accepted and celebrated, reaffirming the
solidarity of the Schengen Area, strengthening tolerance.

Immigration can stand as an invaluable


opportunity to strengthen tolerance. (Source::
Council of the European Union)

Despite the opportunities to strengthen tolerance offered by


immigration, government approaches can greatly alter the
effects of immigration. When governments actively pursue
integration measures, the process of economic contribution of
immigrants is accelerated. Through active efforts by the US
government in the 1940s, the integration of Chinese and Latino
immigrants into American society has contributed towards the
rise of a post-modern liberal identity, greater market
diversification and the destruction of the false generalisation
that immigrants rarely contribute economically. Other policies
such as ‘mixed classroom’ designed for the children of
immigrants and locals provide the progressive education
necessary for the cultivation of open-mindedness. With the
effect compounded in future generations, immigration coupled
with active integration efforts from the government serves to
strengthen tolerance in society, establishing diversity as an edge
in an age of monotonous efficiency.
17
However, while one acknowledges the opportunity to strengthen
tolerance within immigration, the lack of governmental effort
causes immigration to undermine tolerance. Large, secluded
ghettos are easily formed with the lack of governmental support,
creating a mistrustful situation between immigrants and locals
which only worsens prejudices. Members of Turkish diasporas in
Germany formed by unintegrated guest workers from the last
century are often poorly employed, giving rise to a negative
image as a societal burden. Their tendency to congregate in
insular urban neighbourhoods have also spawned xenophobia,
which has lasted until the implementation of new immigration
laws in the 2000s. Hence, one can conclude that while
immigration often offers the opportunity for host countries to
strengthen tolerance, the effects of immigration could also be
detrimental towards tolerance, depending on government
attitudes and policies concerning the issue.

All claims towards supranationalism aside, intolerance is induced


as an inevitable consequence of introducing foreign values
through immigration, especially for nations with more ethnic
notions of citizenship like Poland, Japan, and Korea. Such nations
may harbour an initial intolerance towards foreign cultural
practices of immigrants. Populations of nations with more
assertive interpretations of secularism like France may also be
intolerant of foreign religious practices, as they may see the
integral religious practices of immigrants as a challenge to local
ideologies. Oftentimes, this atmosphere of intolerance fuels right
wing nationalism, and with surging populist sentiments, liberal
values are threatened with the waning influence of centre
parties. In the short term, it can be said that immigration incites
the possibility of challenging local values, which may undermine
tolerance.

Yet, in face of illiberal views, a truly liberal society should be able


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Nations with more ethnic notions of citizenship may
harbour an initial intolerance towards foreign cultural
practices of immigrants. (Source: RT)

to withstand threats to its core values. Only by allowing


individual citizens to retain and express their illiberal views
through democratic and legal channels within their
constitutional frameworks can liberal societies practice the
very ideals they profess. Instead of curbing religious differences
and diversity to uphold a dogmatic secularism, a liberal society
should embrace pluralism over homogeneity, choosing to
embrace the challenges brought about by introduced ideas. In
the end, solidarity is established not on the basis of similarity,
but on the choice for harmony in spite of differences. Although
immigration may introduce ideologies that are at odds with
those of liberal societies, it also offers an opportunity for liberal
societies to make a choice that reaffirms liberalism,
strengthening tolerance as whole.
 
In conclusion, while it is true that immigration brings on many
challenges that may threaten liberalism in the short term, the
very nature of immigration also offers opportunities for liberal
societies to put into practice their tolerant ideals. By rising to
meet the challenge and enacting suitable policies,
governments of liberal societies can not only protect their core
values but reach an even higher level of tolerance. 19
CURRENT AFFAIRS
COMMENTARY

June 2019 | Issue 1